When you have an online business, it's easy to forget that what you see online is the best, curated or partial version of what's actually happening in someone's business. Yet still we persist in comparing ourselves to others on social media! Today, #ahasmember Amber of Ink & Matter shares how she finally moved on from it and what she does to keep from getting sucked back in.
Q: Please introduce yourself.
A: My name is Amber John. I grew up in a tiny town in Western New York but once I graduated from college, I moved out to Buffalo, NY. I started my calligraphy and hand lettering business, Ink & Matter, in January 2015 from my apartment here in Buffalo.
I focus mainly on pointed pen calligraphy for weddings and other events, but I have also done some logo design and other commission work. More recently, I started teaching pointed pen calligraphy workshops in East Aurora, NY.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you've learned in your time as a business owner?
A: Being a business owner has taught me many things, but I think the biggest thing for myself to learn was to avoid negative comparison. That's not to say you shouldn't compare yourself to others, and I also think it's impossible to avoid, but with today's influence of social media, it can be easy to look at other artists and successful business owners and think you're not good enough to do what you do.
Especially when you first start a business, it can be incredibly intimidating to see all these super successful and amazing artists and business owners out there. I've found that if I don't let comparison defeat me, and instead embrace those around me, I'm more likely to find success in myself and my business. There's actually a pretty amazing community of artists that all support and encourage each other, rather than compete with each other. It leads to growth for both sides, which is refreshing.
Q: What role did social media play in gaining this perspective about your business?
A: It goes without saying that social media and places like Etsy have completely changed the way people run businesses. So many small business owners do all of their marketing via social media and find great success with it. Free advertising! But this also leads to a LOT of competition.
One of the most eye-opening experiences I had was participating in an Instagram challenge shortly after I started my business. I saw all these posts from other business owners saying they were getting hundreds of followers a day. I'd look at others' Instagram pages and see how amazing and wonderful their business presence was, and then I would look at my own and think I didn't and would never have enough to offer.
It was discouraging, and I'm sure many business owners go through this at some level, but eventually I learned that it takes a ton of effort to run a successful business, let alone a successful marketing campaign. You just don't get to see all the gritty stuff others are going through on Facebook or Instagram.
Q: Why do you think social media can have this negative effect on small biz owners and makers?
A: I think because there is so much competition out there now, it's way easier to get your name out there in some way, so if you are always trying to be better than every other person, it can end up burning you out. People only ever post their best selves and their best work on Instagram and Facebook, so you generally don't get to see all the hard work and stress that goes into it.
Q: How do you use social media now versus in the beginning? What has changed?
A: I focus much more on my audience. I showcase work that I love and am proud of, with truthful captions and insight into my day to day life. I think when people realize you're a real person and not just a faceless business, it can help build a connection that is otherwise lost in the digital world. Also, I no longer scroll through Instagram wishing I had a million followers.
My focus has shifted to building a connection with the people who really care and enjoy the work I do. Quality over quantity has always been my motto, so I just learned to apply that to social media too.
Q: How have your relationships on social media changed since adopting a new perspective?
A: My relationships on social media have definitely gotten stronger. I've gained a lot of clients through Instagram and Facebook who have turned into repeat customers. I like to think this is attributed to not constantly trying to sell something, but also being relatable, creating something worthwhile, and being a friendly person overall.
But I think one of the most rewarding things has been the friends I've made (mainly through Instagram). There's a lot of people in the creative industry - both locally and not - that I now know and probably wouldn't have without social media. These people are some of the most inspiring and supportive out there, so it's been very rewarding and a great learning experience.
Q: How do you avoid the comparison game now? How do you measure your success?
A: As I mentioned earlier, I know it's impossible to avoid comparison completely. Reducing your time on your phone definitely helps. But I think being able to find a positive light to comparison is really effective in helping you grow as a person. So maybe instead of saying, "I wish I was as good as this person at their art form," I would say, "this person is really amazing at what they do, but what I do is different and that's okay."
I measure success mainly with how a person feels when they get something I made. If someone enjoys and feels happiness from something I made, that's a good day in my book.
Q: What advice would you give a fellow maker who finds themselves hurt by the comparison game?
A: Focus on doing the work for yourself and your clients. Pay attention to your audience. Support your fellow makers. And remember that no one is perfect and running a business is hard work for anyone, even if it looks easy from the outside.
Q: Where can we find your work? (online and offline if available)
A: I'm on Instagram (@inkandmatter), Facebook (Ink & Matter), and Twitter (@inkandmatter). I sell my products through my website, www.inkandmatter.com and Etsy, inkandmatter.etsy.com.
My workshop schedule can be found on my website or through the MUSEjar (www.musejar.com) website, which is the awesome art shop where I do the workshops.